By: Shemaree Campbell

It’s called the American Dream.

Pursing economic opportunity and rising to the middle class is the mindset of many Latinos. Pilsen’s comfortable, welcoming community draws many Latinos from the Mexican border because it offers an environment similar to their home and a place to state their claim to the American Dream.

“It’s wanting a piece of it,” said Jerry Garca, 40, owner of Ronnie’s hot dog place.

Pilsen has always been an, “entry community for Mexicans legal or illegal” said Ralph Braseth, 55, a Loyola University Chicago professor who has done research on Pilsen.

What was once a Czech town bounded by 16th street, Cermack Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue is now Pilsen, Illinois.

The traditional Latino community of Pilsen supports the ever-growing and changing demographics.

Some business owners have encountered third and fourth generation Latino customers, which enriches the cultural ties of the community.

“I lived here 39 years,” said Jerry Garca, “We had third and fourth generations customers come through here.”

Although the neighborhood is mainly safe, those who have been around longer than others have encountered problems such as gangs, security issues, and thick pollution.

Many residents have to cope with a burning coal plant that is located just blocks from Pilsen’s main street, placing a large health risk on those that inhabitant the neighborhood.

“And what they knew, 20 years ago, was that there were high levels of heavy metal that were coming down,” Braseth said.

A coal plant cannot stop the population of Pilsen from growing. The beauty of Pilsen entices newcomers to make this Latino neighborhood the center of living for their family and home.

“I would love to be apart of this community, but I wouldn’t credit myself,” Maren Celeste, 25, employee at a thrift shop,” I see the people that have lived here their whole lives and this is more their community then it is mine.”

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